Eighty-one-year-old playwright Edward Albee is quite particular about who puts on his plays. A theater company must obtain his approval before staging one of his plays, regardless of whether it is being performed on Broadway or off-off-off Broadway in downtown Boise.
Boise Contemporary Theater has just announced its 2009-2010 season, which they hope will include Albee's At Home at the Zoo, but BCT artistic director Matthew Cameron Clark said he had to "asterisk" the production of Albee's play as pending until they have signed contracts in hand, a process any company who has staged an Albee play is familiar with.
Albee's commitment to his artistic vision doesn't aggravate Clark--just the opposite. That dedication is something Clark admires and a quality he strives for in his own work, which includes choosing the plays that BCT will stage each year. And though usually unintentional, the seasons often have a theme--like last year's in which all the playwrights were women--and one for this year is big ideas and small ensembles.
Albee originally wrote The Zoo Story as a one-act play. Peter, a middle-class executive, and Jerry, a disheveled, aggressive loner are two men from different backgrounds with different agendas who meet on a park bench in Central Park. It's a dialogue-heavy play dramatically punctuated by a shocking conclusion. Albee recently added a first act, or prequel, titled "Homelife," in which Peter's seething-under-the-surface relationship with his wife Ann is the focus. Together, the two acts comprise At Home at the Zoo, and apparently Albee will no longer allow professional theater companies to stage it as the one-act Zoo Story, but must include "Homelife" as well.
The Pavilion, by Craig Wright, is the story of a follow-up to unrequited love. Peter and Kari were high school sweethearts. An awful breakup sends them in different directions, but 20 years later when they meet up again at their high-school reunion, the connection that brought them together in the first place isn't totally severed. The cast of The Pavilion is comprised of only three actors but several characters: One actor plays Peter, one plays Kari and one portrays the Our Town-ish narrator and all the other human characters in Peter and Kari's lives. One important role in the play is that of the title character: the pavilion. Clark said the melancholy story is made all the more so by the role the scheduled-for-destruction pavilion plays in Peter and Kari's reunion, and because of the weight of that part, Clark, who directs the play, tapped noted local designer Dwaine Carver to lend his skills in its creation.
Carver said a request from a filmmaker to help with set design and artistic direction led him to start thinking about set and scenic design.
"One rainy afternoon, I was having lunch at Bar G [Gernika], and Matt Clark walked in. It occurred to me, why haven't I ever said, 'Hey, I want to design. Please, please give me a chance sometime.' So I did. I said [to Clark], 'If you ever think I'm appropriate for collaborating with you on a particular play, I would really love to get my feet wet. The only other person I do that to is [director] Michael Hoffman," he said, laughing. "Matt called me a couple of months later ... I probably snapped into his mind because the play starts off with a definition of a pavilion which is actually quite brilliant. It gets you thinking about the idea of what a pavilion is."
Namaste Man (lost and found in Kathmandu) is a one-person play written by and starring Andrew Weems and directed by New York-based director Davis McCallum. It's Weems' autobiographical story of growing up all over the world, specifically in Nepal.
"It's a coming-of-age, sort of memory piece, and it's a globally minded story," Clark described. "The thing that really impressed me was it's a beautiful story about this American kid being exposed to the world because of the nature of his childhood and the incredibly diverse people he was surrounded by. When he got involved in theater, he was surrounded by people from India and Nepal and America and so he does all these different characters. It's his story."
Compared to Lauren Weedman's one-person show last season, which was written and performed by Weedman, Clark said, not unkindly, that Weems' play and performance are more intimate, a bit gentler and a great counterpoint to Weedman's work. But even though it's a one-person play, the work required to stage it is no less involved than a play with a full cast. For the first week of "real" rehearsal, BCT stage manager Kristy J. Martin will travel to New York to meet with Weems and McCallum.
Rajiv Joseph's Animals Out of Paper is also comprised of a small cast of three and is the one play Clark said he is most involved with (though he is slated to play a role in Albee's Zoo). Maureen Towey will return to BCT this season to direct Animals Out of Paper, a play that she happened upon and that has been staged only twice.
"It was done in New York as a world premiere and then in Romania," Clark said. "A pretty standard trajectory," he joked. Clark said Joseph had wanted to write a play about a prodigy, and for "about half a second, he considered writing about a chess prodigy and then realized that story has been told a thousand times." After meeting an origami artist, Joseph realized what an amazing world that is and wrote Animals, a play about origami artists and one prodigy in particular. It's the story of Ilana, an internationally known origamist who has gone through a rough patch in her life. She meets a calculus teacher, Andy, who has a bit of an infatuation with her. He has a student named Suresh who picked up an origami book because he was bored in Andy's calculus class. Suresh needs direction and mentoring in the art of origami, so Andy asks Ilana for her help.
"This one is a lot of fun," Clark said. "It's full of hip-hop music and rhyming. Suresh is not only an origami prodigy but is also a pretty skilled rapper. There's one great scene in the play where he compares the complexities of folding in his way--which is more freestyle--to freestyle rhyming. It's just fantastic and such a cool idea."
Whether BCT receives approval to stage the three-person At Home at the Zoo, the 2009 season promises intimate glances into a diverse assortment of stories told by small casts tasked with interpreting big ideas.
The Pavilion opens Oct. 14, Animals Out of Paper opens Nov. 24, At Home at the Zoo (rights pending) opens Jan. 27, 2010, and Namaste Man opens April 7, 2010. Boise Contemporary Theater, 854 Fulton St., 208-331-9224, bctheater.org.